Relatively speaking – proceed with caution

I have dabbled with our family tree for a few years now, using a website with seemingly magical search engines, tempting you with little waving green leaves, to suggest possible links and events to identify long past relatives. I very quickly became wary of these little leaves, and added nothing as a certainty, unless verified by my own family knowledge or irrefutable supporting documentation.

One of the issues of course is that one “John Smith ” can present much the same as twenty other “John Smith” entries from the same area and at the same time. When you go back only as far as the 1800’s it is quite usual for the same christian name or even a combination of christian names, to be used several times in the same family. It is therefore very easy to attach a record to the wrong one, and go off at a completely inappropriate tangent.

There are also however some situations which may present as completely improbable, but are actually spot on ! In my own family a grandparent of mine had a male sibling born in 1905 with a death recorded for him in the same year. But wait, another birth appears in 1908, same location, same parents, baptised in the same church and same christian name. This sibling lives a long life, with an emigration to Australia and his death there in his old age. My grandmother actually visited him in her eightieth year in Australia. So were the birth and death records in 1905 wrong ? he could not have been born twice. He of course was not, but his parents had named him in 1908 with the same name used for their son who was born and died in 1905.

Again, in the same family, but a generation later, there are two brothers, who are uncles of mine, who married one each of twin sisters, who lived in the same street as them. Now to many more remote relatives, this would look extremely unlikely, and would be dismissed as a false lead.

Despite my cautious approach to these records, a bit of a mystery has emerged in relation to my own great grandmother. Now I recall visiting her as a small child, with my mother, I remember her home and exactly where it was. She is of course on my tree, but her little green waving leaf puts her death at a time when I was 20 years old. For some time I have rejected this as not true! I would have had an ongoing relationship with her! I had assumed that she had died when I was small and my memories of her being in my life stopped. I ordered a death certificate sure that it would place her in a different family. You can guess what happened next, this absolutely is my great-grandmother; her death was registered by her daughter (sibling of my grandfather) who I also remember well, and her address was exactly where I remember her living.

This leaves me with more questions than answers of course. I put out feelers to other members of the family, in the hope that they could fill in the blanks, nothing doing, no memories stirred or facts forthcoming. So we have a completed family line with a question mark for me, but it only troubles me because she was directly involved in my early life. To anyone in the family that did not know her, she is just another name from times going by, to which they are connected.

The downside of using this method to compile a family history is of course the lack of context and back stories. You can confirm names, dates and places; you can marvel at marriages and lives long lived, and feel sadness at young deaths and misfortunes. The workhouse and war records being particularly poignant. You cannot however bring back the emotions and events, good or bad, that lead to the family bonds and fractures that are inevitable.

I have now decided that I must expand on this collection of facts, with real written memories of the people in our tree, to give an understanding to our children, and their children, of the family that I, and their father for his side, grew up with.

We must remember in this digital age of cloud storage and instant photographs and films, that a name hanging on a tree or contained in the title of a file is not enough. The when, where and why are so important to bring a family history to life.

Afternoon tea – the British legal high

  One of the many wonderful presents that I received for my 60th birthday was a luxury cream tea for two at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane. Now I have always loved a cream tea, particularly those of the Cornish variety, but a full on afternoon tea has never really sat well with my schedule. I have often wondered why this was an afternoon event, rather than a lunch ? Surely eating copious amounts of carbs and sugar confectionary between lunch and, whatever you call your evening meal, cannot be good for you.

On researching the origins of the traditional afternoon tea (thank you Google as always) I find that Anna the Duchess of Bedford in 1840 asked that she be served bread and butter, tea and cake in her room in the late afternoon, as she would become peckish in between lunch and dinner which was served late at 8pm. She began to invite her friends and by the 1880’s long gowns, gloves and hats were worn for tea, served in the drawing room between 4 and 5 in any respectable establishment in the land.

Now these ladies did not have the demands on their time that the modern lady of the house has. Sitting around waiting for dinner to be served for 7 hours or so, must have been downright boring. Inventing a social occasion in the middle of the afternoon, for which you could dress up to the nines and show off the culinary skills of your pastry chef, was just the ticket.

Our tea was booked for 3.30 and so we ate breakfast, skipped lunch and set off with high expectations, and we were not disappointed. The tea room was exquisite with wide low seating, a glass centre table laden with lilies in tall vases and cakes under glass domes. We were shown to our window table and given the tea menu, which went to several pages, and asked to select our preferred tea and jams, everything else would be taken care of.

We spent a glorious two hours eating, starting with dainty sandwiches, crust free and cut into fingers, and open on mini brioche type bread rolls. Following this were raisin and buttermilk scones, light as air with rhubarb and ginger, strawberry and blackcurrant jams. The top tier of our sugar stack were mini tarts and pastries. These were served on the traditional tiered cake stands and accompanied by tea served in bone china with individual silver tea strainers. Champagne was included with our voucher, and hubby took full advantage of this, being a non drinker, I opted for freshly made lemonade, sharp and sugary at the same time and adorned with sugared mint leaves, as if you hadn’t already had enough of a sugar hit.

The effect of this unaccustomed sugar and carb load was a high the like of which I have not experienced on a Monday for many years. All felt right with the world, we sat in Berkeley Square and contemplated not Brexit or business or the economy, but the virtues of jam or cream first on a scone. We went on to our evening theatre booking with no need for dinner, and with a feeling of bonhomie that took us through a lively performance and the journey home.

So perhaps the ladies of the eighteen hundreds were on to something that wasn’t just about staving off the hunger pangs till dinner time. A mid afternoon hit of pleasure inducing substances to give you an euphoric cloud to float on, would probably take you through any stuffy evening dinner and beyond.

These days of course we do continue this ritual on a regular if not daily basis, but reduced to a tea bag and a dunked biscuit. Still gives you a bit of a lift though !

Friendships

On Saturday we had lunch with our “gang”, a small group of friends who have gelled together over many years. Two members of this group have known each other for their whole lifetime, they are brothers; others have been added along the way. My husband is one of the founder members of the group, having met one of the said brothers in his early teens, they have been best friends ever since. Others, male and female, met through work, or flat sharing, and some of us women in the group, joined as a new girlfriend.

35 years ago I was introduced to this group of friends at a party. They were, it must be said, a little clicky at the time. Before long I had shown my worth, and became a part of this incredible dynamic of people.

Saturday was an amazing easy going get together; a couple of people couldn’t make it, but the core group were all there and it was wonderful to be with them. I pondered on the journey home as to what it is that glues us all together. We are not alike in many ways; some are parents, others are not; some are retired, others are not. Some are or have been boat owners, others are not. Some play golf, we definitely do not! We have holidayed collectively very occasionally, but in smaller groups regularly.

Our glue I think is the mutual love and respect that we have for each other. This has grown over the years, through career changes and house moves, children being born and moving away, illnesses and even a divorce. There is no need to introduce anyone, there are no awkward silences or one upmanship stances. We had six hours of reminiscing as well as anecdotal tales of our separate lives, plenty of laughter and banter and some pretty amazing food.

I came away full of love and admiration for all of these people. They have all had and have their own struggles, their strength in meeting their challenges without fuss, has been an inspiration to me, and always will be.

We have ongoing plans, as we always do, to meet in smaller groups, to further shared interests or connections. We meet again collectively in a few weeks and I can’t wait. This gang of ours is very special – and I treasure it.

The nail bar – not quite getting it right

My mother had a ritual when manicuring her nails that was at least weekly, and involved many processes of filing, buffing and pushing back cuticles before layers of lotions, base coats, coloured polishes and top coats were lovingly applied. Her nail polish bag was full to brimming of every shade of red, pink and plum that you could imagine.

I however could never master the skill that she had to any great effect. Perhaps a lack of the time or patience needed to allow each carefully applied coat to dry, led to disappointment in what was frankly usually a mess at the end of my fingers.

On the day of my wedding I made my first trip to a nail bar and left with unmanageable talons painted to match my dress. Not entirely a success as they were firmly glued to my cuticles and the pain as they grew out led to my new husband removing them with his multi tool type penknife on our honeymoon – very romantic !

In preparation for my daughter’s wedding in January of this year, her sister convinced me to give it another go – things have changed, products advanced, and a more natural look could be attained I was told. Surprisingly the results were very pleasing, a synthetic nail coating on my own nails felt natural and was as tough as old boots.

I spend the vast majority of my day, particularly Monday to Friday with my fingers stretched over a keyboard or mouse and reaching out for paperwork or phone. It stands to reason therefore, that the bits of me that are constantly in my vision are my hands. I rarely look at my face and have been known to spend a whole afternoon in and out of the general office at work with ink smeared over my cheeks or similar, not realising until an end of the day trip to the loo. I have decided therefore to treat my nails to a hard as bullets nail bar polish every 2-3 weeks which keeps them tip-top and me feeling that at least part of me looks under control.

This has not always been a success however, as the rest of me often lets the side down. The first humiliation of the nail bar happened a couple of weeks ago during a period in London of particularly high pollen. Despite a daily dose of antihistamine, I suffer from hayfever and spend a good deal of my time in the summer quietly crying behind dark glasses. On this day I thought I had it contained. I sat on my fur lined stool and held out my hands for the transformation to begin. Now the thing about the nail treatment I have is that it involves many processes, mum would be so proud, and alternate coats of glue and powder to create that rock hard finish needed to get me through weeks of typing, gardening, and general forget you have manicured nails behaviour.

Needless to say, you cannot stop to wipe a tearful eye, or swat a dripping nose – you get the picture ! the day was hot and the fans were blowing; the lady next to me was having something intricate painted on with some sort of air gun; much to the horror of my stylist within ten minutes of a one hour treatment I was wearing my eye makeup on my chin. The only way to control my nose was to breath in deeply through my nose, yes sniff! a bit like pilates breathing but without the belt tightening sigh that should follow. Give her her due she did try to dab, but I do not blame her for not wanting to get too up close and personal. After about 45 minutes I was told to go and wash my hands, as is usual before the final polish is applied, and was told that I might also want to take a look at my face. It was not a good look !

I returned this morning for my take off and reapply ritual. No hayfever, so all good. Unfortunately I had prepared turmeric cod for tea yesterday evening, one of my husband’s favourites and quick and easy to prepare, you just slaver the cod in a turmeric, oil and lemon juice dressing and shove it in the oven. I was in a bit of a hurry, I did wash my hands after but not too carefully, and, as the decorators arrived at 7.45 this morning, my shower was a little hurried.

As I held out my hands in anticipation of a relaxing hour of idle chit chat she asked, you are not going to cry today are you? no of course not I replied – all good today. I then looked down and realised that my hands looked like those of someone with a 40 a day habit, and able to hold three cigarettes at a time in each hand. Bright yellow cuticles and stained fingers, are not the look that they usually aim for.

She was professional to the extreme, carefully scrubbing the yellow away with god knows what produced from under the counter, and I emerged with my usual nail perfection. I do believe however that what she muttered as she rolled her eyes in the direction of her co stylists was Korean for “we’ve got a right one here”.

I must be very careful in three weeks time not to go for the hat trick or they may not let me back.

Exactly what is an ingredient ?

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I have no particular loyalty to one supermarket chain, the choice in my neck of the woods is vast and Lidl, Sainsbury and M & S all regularly take my money. I had cause this week to pop into a very large Tesco for something trivial, and scanned the aisle headings, as you do in an unfamiliar store, because that is what they are there for.

My eye was drawn to an aisle headed “Ingredients”. What ? isn’t everything in the store an ingredient ? Intrigued I headed over, what would I find ? Perhaps a bright spark at Tesco HQ had realised that half the ingredients required for “celebrity chef” recipes can only be purchased online and had decided to corner the market – exciting !

Not exciting. Having scanned the aisle, a long one at that, I was having trouble working out what the theme was. Then it hit me, this aisle contains the components needed to replace the Friday night takeaway. Not rows of exotic spices and rubs however, just your basic jar sauces, stir fry flavour sachets, rices, tortillas etc etc. I was slightly perplexed by the inclusion of stuffing (roast chicken variety) and gravy granules, but I assume that the Tesco boardroom thought shower had progressed to the local pub carvery, along with the Indian and Chinese takeaways!

So exactly what is an ingredient – one dictionary definition is “Any of the foods or substances that are combined to make a particular dish.” Fair enough!

The origins of the word lead to something more profound – “Late Middle English from Latin ingredient- ‘entering’, from the verb ingredi, from in- ‘into’ + gradi ‘walk’.” So, every aisle, being something that you enter or walk into, is in itself an ingredient of the store.

I have flicked through my vast collection of recipe books and see that many list items such as “tomato ketchup” or “plum sauce” as ingredients. But these also have a list of ingredients on the bottle. The more elite of our chefs of the celebrity variety, often bookmark these items to a further list of recipes, usually at the back of the book, with lists of ingredients for the ingredient!

My conclusion Tesco I am afraid is that this is a fake aisle heading, it is meaningless! I cannot imagine that anyone wishing to produce their own version of the local curry house vindaloo would be drawn to this aisle. If you want to corner this market your aisle heading needs to be more relevant, catchy and witty would also be good. “Don’t take it Away” perhaps !

Sixty – aims and ambitions

I have not at any previous turn of a decade wanted to set out a definitive plan for the next 10 years. I had my first child at the age of 30, so motherhood was a given; I launched a new business at the age of 40 at the start of the new Millenium, setting the scene for a decade at least, of mega juggling, power working, super womanism; at 50 I had two adult children and one aged 16 going on 20 so effectively free of childminding headaches (and costs), and was able with or without hubbie to simply “go out” when I chose and start to have an adult life again. Do not get me wrong I loved my years with growing children, and they have all grown into amazing adults that I am extremely proud of.

Sixty however, seems to be my decade for planned action, perhaps I feel that I am running out of decades to waste, although I actually have never , in my head, really left my forties. So what do I have planned ?

My first actions have been to give myself some freedom:

Freedom from the restraints of a daily slog at work. I have spent 20 years steering the ship and running the team and now is the time to delegate, properly delegate, not go to the office every day, to let them get on with it. So two full days each week in the office and three not in the office. Two of which are Monday and Friday, giving long weekends and a real sense of slowing down.

Freedom from the expectation to glug down the wine at every opportunity, nobody has been pouring it down my neck but me, but enough is enough. I have quietly and without any fuss given up alcohol. I can now go to anything without worrying about how to get home; who to stay with if public transport is not an option or cabs are too far; and of course what I actually did the night before or who I have upset.

Freedom to indulge in me time. I have never been a gym person, but I have always loved to swim and workout. Previously swimming has comprised of 60 power lengths of breast stroke in the local pool after work while going through the action points for the next day in my head. workouts have been snatched home DVD versions interrupted by my kids, dogs, husband, phone and endless other distractions, usually leading to abandonment halfway through. I have now joined the local fitness centre and indulge 1 hour each day, wherever possible, for a class. Swimming has become water workout, pilates and zumba feature regularly and most happen in the mornings, not silly o clock, but 9-10 or even 11.15 on Sundays.

Freedom to be myself. I do not have to present myself as somebody’s mum or boss or work associate. I do not have to power dress, I can work at home if I choose, makeup free and in jeans or flowing skirt with flowers in my hair , I can eat what and when I like. I can be frivolous or funny, impulsive or contemplative at my leisure. I can take time with friends, my family, my dogs and my husband and indulge them with the attention that for the past three decades, I simply have not made time for.

So at sixty years of age I now work part time, mostly from home, mostly in casual dress, I do not drink alcohol, through choice rather than a warning from the GP, I walk my dogs, see my friends and give more time to my nearest and dearest.

Now the scene is set I come to my second aim for the decade which is to archive my life. I have my Ancestry family tree which I dip into from time to time, to add new family additions and dig a bit deeper into one family branch or another. I also have a ridiculous quantity of photographs that never see the light of day and are never shared. I now therefore have a good quality scanner,upgraded cloud storage and a will to get it all on there, with back stories and comments to explain the wheres and the whyfores, before I forget !

I now also have this blog, which may never be read or shared by anyone, but will be my record of my thoughts and experiences as a sixty something in the twenty twenties. If anyone is reading this, please feel free to comment and share your lifeviews and ambitions, whatever decade you are in. I will be back soon.